Saturday's heavyweight battle between Derek Chisora and Kubrat Pulev was about more than titles. It was a fight for the future.
In front of his hometown fans, Chisora of England (33-12, 23 KOs) dug deeper than ever before to win a split decision over Pulev of Bulgaria (29-3, 14 KOs). Scores were 116-112 each, and a 116-114 card went to Chisora.
Often criticized for losing steam, Chisora pushed through the final rounds to prevent Pulev from taking over and snatching yet another victory out of his hands, mustering enough will to continue the body attack serving Chisora so well to take enough steam out of Pulev's shot to prevail.
Chisora's two young daughters saw their father fight for the first time. “Can you imagine if I'd lost in front of my kids? I'm happy I won in front of my kids. I'm proud,” said Chisora.
“I needed a win. I've lost so many fights on the road. And what a way to win it. O2 Arena, I'm buzzing right now, you understand. It feels great to be a winner, you understand.”
Chisora credited grueling preparation at age 38 for seeing him through to the victory. “When you train for these fights, you have to go to the deep end, bro. You have to mentally, body, die training. You can't cheat in this game and come back and fight 12 rounds.”
Strong Start for Chisora; Pulev Brings the Fire
Chisora came out guns blazing, hoping to catch Pulev and make it an early night. Although Chisora had the upper hand early, Pulev wasn't going anywhere. Pulev made a point of refusing to sit down between rounds, knowing Chisora's reputation for gassing out in the later rounds.
Chisora focused early and throughout on a solid body attack. As the fight continued to the middle rounds, Pulev started catching Chisora with hard head shots, buzzing him several times. The body punching could have taken just enough off the shots to prevent Chisora from hitting the canvas.
Both veterans know all the tricks, pushing off and leaning on each other, making for a sloppy fight as the two began to fatigue. Referee Marcus McDonald warned Pulev several times for holding but didn't take a point and affect the fight outcome either way.
In the last third of the fight, Chisora put himself against the ropes several times, counting on enough upper body movement to allow him to avoid the worst from Pulev while saving what was left of his legs. It was a smart move by a veteran fighter. Chisora could drill Pulev with hard right hands, but credit to Pulev who always stood his ground.
But in a do-or-die fight, Chisora was willing to dig a little deeper than Pulev. Pulev couldn't let his hands go when it would have swung another crucial round his way. It could have been the effort to avoid taking more body shots or fatigue.
Earlier in the fight, the hard overhand right hooks thrown by Chisora and straight right bombs from Pulev would have scored knockdowns, but in the final rounds, they did incremental but not fatal damage. By the final round, with promoter Eddie Hearn hollering at Chisora to keep going, the British favorite fought on heart, mustering the energy to go to the body for the last time, sensing the fight was close and wanting the 12th round in his column on the cards. Pulev tried but failed to land one lights-out shot.
Asked what he thought when he heard the first two cards split between himself and Pulev, Chisora sighed, “I'm used to it, bro. If they'd gave it to him, I'd jump on the train and carry on. I'm used to getting robbed. God has got a plan. I'll find out soon.”
Chisora: ‘I don't have many left'
After his first win in three years, Chisora said his emotions were mixed.
“I'm happy today. At the same time, I'm sad. I don't have many left in me, but what I have, I want to give it all to you guys. My next couple fights, I'm on my way out. I don't want no easy fights. I want hard fights. I told Eddie the other day, if he can get me the Bronze Bomber, I'll be happy. I want to fight everyone in my era. Win or lose, I'll be happy.”
Hearn called the fight tough, brutal, sloppy, and grueling. “Chisora deserved one tonight. When I read out the split, I thought, oh please – I was going to run from the fight. Tonight, one did go his way … I was just desperate to see him win tonight. He has such a big heart. You see that. He never quits. He's just beaten a top 10, top 15 heavyweight.”
Chisora ribbed Hearn after the fight, saying he wanted a decent paycheck like Anthony Joshua. “I have a go at you now … My kids are in private school now. I need to get paid. I want to have some caviar. I'm tired of fish and chips,” as the pair laughed.
It's no laughing matter thought to seriously consider a fight with American Deontay Wilder as Chisora's next opponent. After Saturday's triumph, watching Chisora the father with his two beautiful daughters in the ring, he should consider calling it a career on a high note. It's not the first time, as our Tom Jones wrote four years ago.
Little good can come of Chisora facing a foe with a right hand able to land with far more force than anything Kubrat Pulev landed today. Wilder hasn't made his plans clear since the unveiling of a statue in his honor in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Let both men put fatherhood first this time.
Madrimov and Soro Rematch Resolves Nothing
After a controversial first meeting in December, Israil Madrimov (8-0-1, 6 KOs) of Uzbekistan and Michel Soro of France (35-3-2, 24 KOs) couldn't settle the score in their WBA-ordered rematch. A clash of heads at the start of the third round opened a gushing cut over Soro's left eye, and the ringside physician advised the referee to stop the fight, ending in a technical draw.
Soro hoped to rectify his defeat after Madrimov scored a knockout after the bell ending the ninth round sounded in their last meeting. In the first two rounds Saturday, Madrimov bore down on Soro, whipping him with hooks to the head and drilling him with body punches. Credit to Soro, he was weathering them well early but had no answers.
When ring announcer David Diamante delivered the official news, Soro's cut wasn't bleeding. Was he looking for an early exit knowing the outcome was inevitable? Promoter Eddie Hearn said what everyone was thinking.
“When it first happened, blood was dripping out everywhere. It looked really bad. But as we saw when the announcement was made, the bleeding was stopped. It was above the eye at the side of the eye. Could it continue? I would have liked so. Now the WBA is probably going to order a third fight which isn't good for anyone,” said a dismayed Hearn, calling it a “bitter ending.”
The winner of the WBA eliminator would become a mandatory challenger for unified champion Jermell Charlo. The path for Madrimov now remains to be seen.
Undercard Roundup From The O2 Arena
Caoimhin Agyarko of Belfast (12-0, 7 KOs) delivered a solid performance in his first bout at super welterweight against the sturdy Lukasz Maciec of Poland (28-5-1, 5 KOs). Agyarko breezed through a ten-round unanimous decision, losing just a single round on the three scorecards. Agyarko aspires to be the first Black Irish world champion. He has all the power and speed to achieve this goal, but he needs to be more defensively responsible against the harder punchers at the division's top. Promoter Eddie Hearn suggested a matchup against Gary “Spike” O'Sullivan is next for Agyarko. Ye gods is all we have to say.
Super bantamweight prospect Ramla Ali of England (6-0, 1 KO) wins a decision victory over Agustina Rojas of Argentina (6-2). The first pro and first Olympic boxer ever from Somalia, Ali is poised for stardom as she works on her craft. “Fair play, she was really tough. I wanted to get her out, but she wasn't going anywhere. She's got a chin on her,” said Ali.
It was an easy outing for Ali, but trainer Manny Robles pushed Ali throughout the fight not to ease off or admire her work, urging her to work harder and give 100% even in a fight she had in the bag.
“I was a bit nervous actually having this many people come out and watch me,” said Ali of her first fight back at home since May 2021 and the Olympics. “I didn't want to disappoint anyone. But soon as I heard the chanting, all the nerves were out the window. I knew everyone was here to support me, and that's a good feeling,” said Ali. “There's no other feeling like being at home and being in front of your home crowd.”